Owners of the new Dairy Queen ran into an unexpected blizzard at Thursday’s Leesville Planning and Zoning & Land Use Commission meeting.
Owners Patrick Smyth and Rick Allen, who is also mayor, were on hand for what is ordinarily a routine site plan approval. But Commission Chairman, Charles Babineaux, changed that when he asked whether Allen’s involvement constituted a conflict-of-interest.
Specifically, Babineaux posed the question of whether Allen’s mayoral role in the annexation of property along the Alexandria Highway, and his subsequent investment with Smyth, was/is in violation of the state ethics code.
Allen was clearly taken aback. Given the opportunity to respond, he told the commission that neither he nor Smyth owned the property at the time of annexation last year. In fact, he noted, the owner of the track east of Lebo’s was opposed to annexation.
Smyth and Allen held a ceremonial groundbreaking at the site, Thursday morning. Their intentions are, weather permitting, to have the $1.7 million eatery open in December.
Babineaux said he wasn’t attempting to halt the project, that he just wanted the board to determine whether Allen’s role was within the state ethics code.
The mayor told Babineaux that “it is not your job to have that concern. Your job is to vote on the site plan and permit.”
Babineaux disagreed, at one point saying, “When you see things, you have to act,” and reiterating he was not opposed to the DQ but wanted, what he called, “the dilemma” resolved.
Allen said he had discussed the project with private counsel before entering the project, then followed up with City Attorney Max Anthony who, he thought, had sent a letter to the Commission regarding the matter. Anthony had not.
City Planner Grant Bush contacted Anthony by text message. Anthony said he had not yet sent the letter but could do so on Friday. The inference was due to the fact that he saw no ethical issue in the matter.
City Councilman William Thomas, who arrived after the session as under way, said until that point, he was not aware of the mayor’s business ventures. Be that as it may, he said the state Ethics Board is the proper entity to resolve the question, if, in fact, there is one.
“I would prefer your decision be on the business part of the matter,” he said.
Councilman Chris Robertson, who also appeared during the discussion, said elected and appointed officials are awash in ethics advice, opinions and queries. “All this has been handled. There is no ethics issue involved,” he said.
He said a more appropriate question would be how to speed up the process for businesses wanting to open in Leesville.
“When you have businesses trying to open and it takes too long, they look elsewhere. We’ve got to speed up the process,” said Robertson.
Babineaux said he was not trying to be an obstructionist. He said that during pre-screening of the project application he had asked the same question and received no answer.
Commission member, Parthenia Douglas-Beal, said she was unwilling to hold up approval of the site plan on the basis of Babineaux’s concern. “I don’t feel that way and am asking for a vote,” she said, adding the approval could be contingent on receipt of Anthony’s opinion. Members Edmond “Sandy” Guynn and Annie Marbury voted with her, as did Babineaux, with the condition of assenting opinion from Anthony.
In other action:
— The panel approved the site plan for BMS Car Wash at 1089 Boone St. (adjacent to Walgreen’s). A representative of the firm, which also has car washes in Alexandria and Pineville, said work will start immediately.
Bush said Louisiana DOTD advised that no traffic impact study was necessary. With a roundabout pending at Boone’s nearby intersection with US 171, the Commission had wondered if there were state traffic issues. Evidently, DOTD did not think so.
— Approved rezoning of a lot at 903 Nolan Trace to allow a mobile home there, after members were satisfied that eligible neighbors (any within 300 feet) had been notified, informed and registered no protest.
— Accepted Bush’s recommendation for revocation of a public servitude (right of way) on an undeveloped portion of North Street for the which the city has no current or future plans.